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[Photographs: Josh Conley]

One of the first things you notice upon entering The Red Lion Lincoln Square is the unusual layout of the place, wherein you essentially walk through the middle of the dining area toward a small bar, unsure of exactly what to do with yourself. With no sign to direct, no host to ask, you feel like a complete tourist. And indeed you are in a foreign, yet not altogether unfamiliar place.

A longer look around reveals the red carpeting, stained glass windows, and a barman in uniform. It's like you recognize most of the individual pieces, but they don't quite fit together to form a clear image. And then you see the red telephone booth sitting there. Oh, THAT'S it; Yes, I am in England, or at least a reasonable facsimile of it, tucked away in a little commercial nook of Rockwell, just south of Lawrence.

British food used to be the butt of a lot of jokes—greasy, dull, and unpopular for good reason. But places like Owen and Engine, Pleasant House Bakery, and this place are doing their best to change that impression. And it's working.

The green coconut curry wings ($7.95), sub-headed 'the specialty of the house' made me do a triple take. What, chicken wings at a British pub? Interesting. Curry wings at a British pub? Well, okay, just toss them in that curry dip (see below), and...wait, Thai curry wings at a British pub? These I had to try. They are breaded, which is about the only minor strike against them. And it's very minor, because the breading actually helps to soak up more of the curry sauce they are tossed in, rich with coconut and fortified with chiles. The wings are moist, spicy, and worth the mess. A truly unique and wonderful surprise.

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Some things I just can't really understand how they have not become wildly popular here. Chimichurri is one. Another would have to be curry chips ($5.95). Big, fat chips, fried crispy, with a liberal sprinkling of salt and served up with a side of mild curry sauce. Such a simple idea, expertly executed. THIS is the curry I expected at a British place, bursting with garlic, ginger, yogurt, and mild curry powder.

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The sausages in the bangers 'n mash ($11.95) are locally sourced from Spencer's Jolly Posh. The finely-ground links are plump, savory, and mildly spiced. The mash portion is actually the house-made bubble 'n squeak, a soufflé of mashed potatoes, bacon, and cabbage. The cabbage gives it some nice texture, and then you get the salty goodness from the bacon; this stuff is dangerous.

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The croquettes of fish ($8.25) are like gigantic fish nuggets. Huge hunks of cod are dipped in a lightly-seasoned, airy beer batter and fried. They come out soft (I'd prefer a little more crunch), but the fish is mild and just plain clean-tasting, and you can pick out the beer in the batter. They are served with an excellent, onion-y house-made tartar sauce and lemon.

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The made-daily chicken 'n dumpling soup ($3.95) is also well worth trying. Big chunks of chicken circle the shark cage of a dumpling submerged in the middle. The broth is salty and rich with deep chicken flavor and marjoram, and the dumpling is excellent.

From the antique plates to the framed pictures of The Beatles and Billy Idol in very close proximity, TRLLS has a lot of personality to go with its great food. There are only four taps, divided between local brews and British ales, but plenty of bottles and a couple dozen single malt Scotches to wet your whistle. They also have one hand-pull beer engine. There is live jazz on Tuesdays, one TV, and a fully-stocked bookcase to keep you busy. Though it doesn't necessarily look like most British locals I visited, it feels every bit like one. You can come and meet new friends, or mind your own business; all are welcome.

The Red Lion Lincoln Square

4749 North Rockwell Street, Chicago, IL 60625 (map)
773-654-1341
theredlionlincolnsquare.com

Josh Conley is single-handedly trying to re-introduce the verb beget into the everyday lexicon. He traveled to Easter Island one Christmas out of sheer irony. He excises a hefty syntax, and shamelessly promotes the color orange. His wife begat him two small children that he regularly belittles HERE.

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